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Thursday, February 13, 2014
Farm Preview: System vastly improved

By Adam Rubin

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets have improved the farm system in the four years under Sandy Alderson to the point where ESPN’s Keith Law ranks the organization sixth in the majors.

That has been as much on the backs of trades that landed right-hander Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud (from the Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey) and second baseman Dilson Herrera (from the Pirates for Marlon Byrd and John Buck) as with the draft.

Whatever the route, things are looking brighter -- albeit far more on the pitching than position-player side.

Who might make their major-league debut in 2014?

Here’s a look at the most likely among players in camp:

Syndergaard, the Futures Game starter for the United States at Citi Field last year, is unquestionably the top prospect and will debut in the majors in 2014.

On merit, he might be the best candidate for the fifth-starter’s role right now after going a combined 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 23 starts for Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton last season.

Still, economics dictate decisions, and Syndergaard likely will be delayed until mid-June at the earliest -- which should ensure his arbitration eligibility is delayed by a year. That is the same timetable Zack Wheeler had a year ago.

Syndergaard should be part of a formidable and young Triple-A Las Vegas rotation -- any of whom may debut in the majors this year.

Right-hander Rafael Montero might have an outside shot at the Mets bullpen to open the year, but is ranked fourth in the organization by Law and figures to be in Vegas’ rotation alongside Syndergaard.

Right-handed prospects Jacob deGrom, Erik Goeddel, Cory Mazzoni and Logan Verrett all have shots to open the season in the Triple-A rotation as well and debut in 2014.

In the bullpen, lefty prospect Jack Leathersich has 241 strikeouts in 143 professional innings and may be a candidate to join Scott Rice as the southpaws in the Opening Day bullpen. Last year’s Double-A closer, right-hander Jeff Walters, who had 38 saves for the B-Mets, also has a shot from the get-go and should debut in 2014. Lefty reliever Adam Kolarek will be in camp, too, and could make the majors this season.

Position-player-wise, things are lighter for the Mets, and there probably is not an impact bat debuting in 2014. The last three first-round picks (Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini and Dominic Smith) all were selected out of high school and still are young.

If the Mets were short of catchers, 2011 supplemental first-round pick Kevin Plawecki might be a factor later in the year. But even a September call-up appears dicey to project because Plawecki does not need to be added to the 40-man roster next winter, and because the Mets should have depth with Taylor Teagarden and Juan Centeno in Triple-A behind d’Arnaud and Anthony Recker.

Outfielder Cesar Puello could be one position player to watch. He hit .326 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 331 at-bats in 2013 at Double-A Binghamton before finishing the season serving a 50-game Biogenesis-related suspension. Puello, 22, likely will start the season with Las Vegas.